Critics rip Cardinal Sean O'Malley on abuse comments

By Mary Markos
September 11, 2018

MARCH 10: Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley leads a mass at Santa Maria Della Vittoria as he and the rest of the College of Cardinals prepare to gather this week and select a new pope on March 10, 2013 in Rome, Italy.
Photo by Joe Raedle

Cardinal: My panel not charged to investigate

Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley, facing renewed scandal about the church’s handling of priest sex abuse cases, has doubled down on his position that his pontifical commission’s priority is preventing, not investigating abuse cases — drawing alarm and even mockery from critics who say that stance is “not credible.”

O’Malley, the president of the Vatican’s Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, said in Rome through a communique that the “commission’s starting point is not to investigate abuses; our starting point is to prevent abuses.”

“Sometimes people will introduce me as the president of the sex abuse commission and I always correct them and say, no, our competence is the protection of minors — it’s really prevention. We are not a body that deals with past cases or particular situations of abuse,” O’Malley said in an interview with the Vatican News. “We are trying to change the future so that it will not be a repeat of the sad history.”

Attorney Mitchell Garabedian, a longtime advocate for victims of priest sex abuse, called O’Malley’s comments an “indictment” of the church, suggesting the heirarchy fails to understand how to prevent clergy sexual abuse. Garabedian is calling for government involvement on the state, federal and international levels.

“It is not credible, not reasonable to believe the leaders of the Catholic Church — the very entity which participated in sexual abuse and its cover-up — is now going to prevent sexual abuse and cover-up in the future,” Garabedian said. “Not only that, they don’t know how to prevent sexual abuse, they’ve shown through their actions that they really don’t care about preventing sexual abuse.”

Church critic Peter Borre, meanwhile, compared O’Malley to “Sgt. Schultz,” the buffoonish character on the “Hogan’s Heroes” TV show, saying he is ignoring allegations of rampant complicity on the part of the hierarchy — notably with his claim that his secretary never showed him a priest’s warning letter about now-disgraced ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick in 2015.

“To date the cardinal archbishop of Boston, Sean O’Malley, has been successful in using the Sgt. Schultz defense,” Borre said. “So his Sgt. Schultz defense becomes: ‘I don’t want to see anything, I don’t want to know anything.’ ”

Sex abuse survivor Alexa MacPherson, who grew up in Dorchester going to St. Margaret Church, has said she was abused by an assistant pastor from the time she was 3 years old until she was about 9 1⁄2.

“It feels again and again and again like a slap in the face,” MacPherson said. “They need to do more to prevent these tragedies, but furthermore, when they do get word that somebody has been abused or assaulted they need to turn that person over. Simply, they just don’t do enough.”

O’Malley’s communique followed the ninth ordinary Plenary Assembly of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, which took place Sep. 7-9. Pope Francis established the commission in 2014 and placed O’Malley in charge.

Commission members heard testimony of people who were affected by clerical child sexual abuse, including a survivor and the mother of two adult survivors who were abused as children, according to a statement released by the Vatican News. The commission thanked them for sharing their stories and “contributing to the learning process.”

O’Malley said he always brought an abuse survivor with him when meeting church leaders to emphasize the importance of listening to victims.

“Bringing the voice of survivors to the leadership of the church is crucial if people are going to have an understanding of how important it is for the church to respond quickly and correctly anytime a situation of abuse may arise,” O’Malley told the news service.


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